From co-creators Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, the FX series Mayans M.C. is the next chapter in the Sons of Anarchy saga, now set in a post-Jax Teller world. Fresh out of prison and trying to carve out a new identity in a town where he was once the golden boy with big dreams, Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (JD Pardo) is trying to navigate what it means to be a Prospect in the Mayans M.C. charter on the California/Mexico border. While figuring out what the next step in his life can be, EZ is torn between his struggling but lawful father (Edward James Olmos), his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas), who is a full patch member of the M.C., and his childhood sweetheart Emily (Sarah Bolger), who seems to have moved on without him.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Emilio Rivera (who plays Marcus Alvarez, the founder and national president of the Mayans M.C., aka El Padrino) talked about how he found out that Mayans M.C. was going to happen and that he’d be returning to his character, first introduced on Sons, how his role has changed since he was first cast, collaborating with co-showrunners Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, delving deeper into Marcus Alvarez, maintaining leadership while still having to answer to someone else, and what his M.C. cut means to him.
Collider: So, I absolutely believe that they couldn’t have done this show without you.
EMILIO RIVERA: That’s very nice of you to say. Thank you! I’m so proud of the actors that they’ve hired to play these characters.
When and how did you find out that this was going to happen, and that you’d get to return to this character and explore him even further?
RIVERA: There had been talk, a little after we finished Sons, but then Kurt [Sutter] called me up about it, a year and half ago. I didn’t know what it would be about. I really didn’t. We were having lunch and he said, “Hey, man, we’re gonna do Mayans.” I went, “Really?!” He said, “Yeah, it’s rolling.” I kept it cool, but my heart was racing. I was really happy about it. And here we are. It’s really cool. I love the character, Marcus Alvarez, so to be able to come back with him, it’s like a kid in a candy store.
Marcus Alvarez has always seemed like one of those characters that there was so much more to learn about.
RIVERA: Exactly. And we don’t know how deep they’ll go with Marcus Alvarez, but a little bit of mystery is good. I like that. I really do. We saw just enough of him on Sons to stay intrigued with him. and now we have the Mayans M.C. If I had talked too much, then they would have been done with him. I’m happy. It’s good.
The Mayans didn’t originally exist on Sons and you started out playing a different character. When you think back to where you had started, what’s it like to see how it’s evolved into this?
RIVERA: I was a part of the Sons. I was Hawk, who was the equivalent to Tig’s character. I’m so happy about the evolution. When we were doing the original pilot of Sons, it didn’t make no sense. We’d be sitting in the church, doing the meeting and going, “So, tomorrow night, we’re gonna go kill those wetbacks,” and I was like, “I’m right here, bro.” I would just have to eat it up and not say anything in response, so I was glad when the network saw the same thing and made me Marcus Alvarez. I was happy about that.
What’s it like to spend so many years working with show creator Kurt Sutter and going on this journey with him, through Sons of Anarchy and Mayans M.C.?
RIVERA: Sutter’s been a brother. Sometimes you know people for 35 or 40 years, but you can be closer with somebody you’ve known for 10 years. Kurt is my brother, just from a different mother. I can honestly say that.
How was it to then add Elgin James into the mix, for this show?
RIVERA: I love Elgin. He’s a solid dude. He’s lived the life, in a different way. He shows respect, and we respect him. I respect where he comes from. Even though we’re all from different upbringings, we all went through some hard times. When we put our heads together, it’s dark but beautiful.
Does it all feel very collaborative?
RIVERA: It’s great. What I like about this cast that we have is that everybody’s appreciative. They’re giving 110%, and when you’ve got something like that, it’s magic.
What was it like to walk on set, the first day of this, and to have it feel familiar, but to look at so many different and new faces, too?
RIVERA: It’s funny because I have worked with these actors, over the years. I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve worked with them in different things, but to see them be brothers, and to have them be my brothers, is a beautiful thing. I knew what they would come in with, and I knew the writing was gonna be insane. It’s like going to school and having fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on great sets. I enjoy my work and I love the people. Sometimes I just don’t wanna go home. You just wanna hang out and talk shit. It’s really cool.
What can you say about what we’ll see of Marcus Alvarez, this season?
RIVERA: He’s a leader. That’s all I can tell you ‘cause I don’t wanna get in trouble. He’s the Godfather. It’s dark. Right now, we’re establishing J.D. Pardo’s character, Ezekiel Reyes. That’s the heart of it. Maybe later on, as we get more seasons, we can explore our different backstories.
What does Alvarez think of the new guy?
RIVERA: He’s not too cool about new guys. Alvarez doesn’t like change. He likes his group tight. But then again, EZ is the brother of Angel, who’s a solid dude, so he’ll give him a shot. That’s all I can say. Alvarez is very much about, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
What’s it like to explore the character in a position of leadership?
RIVERA: Alvarez is confident. He’s gonna always try to go by the book. On Sons of Anarchy, he always went by the book and they screwed him, and then he had to kill somebody. He didn’t wanna kill nobody. He just wants to make money and keep his family together, but it’s a struggle to do that. There’s gonna be a lot of stuff, where he has to come in and say to the M.C., “This is wrong, and this is right.